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Apocalypse origins, p.4
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       Apocalypse Origins, p.4

           R.A. Neely
 

  ***

  Shirley opened her eyes. For a split second, she thought she was waking up like on any other typical day. Then she wondered why the ceiling looked different. A moment later, all her memories came crashing back. She sat up with a sigh of disappointment. Was it too much to ask that all this has just been a crazy dream? That she was at this moment actually in her king size bed at home?

  Shirley looked around and saw Jackson standing at the window. Was the coast clear? She'd be happy to be on her way out of here.

  "Is it safe to leave?" she asked in a low voice.

  Jackson shook his head. "Not yet," he replied in kind.

  "There's still one out there that I can see, “he said moving towards her.

  "Is it leaving?"

  Jackson shrugged. "We might be able to sneak past it. I'd rather not fight it without some kind of weapon if I can help it."

  Shirley nodded. That made sense. She was completely reliant on Jackson for her safety right now. If he wasn't ready then she wasn't budging until he said so. She'd probably have been caught up in that initial attack if he hadn't been in her office. She could imagine herself opening her door to see what was happening and that would have been that.

  "I did see something interesting though," he said. "Remember the guy who got knocked out earlier?"

  "Yes. You said he was lucky because the infected left him alone."

  Jackson nodded. "Turns out he wasn't lucky. Looks like he's one of them now."

  "What?" Shirley asked, a bit louder than she'd intended.

  Jackson held up a finger for silence. He moved back to the window and peered out. The infected was on its feet and shuffling around the room. Looks like it hadn't heard them.

  Jackson left the window and returned to Shirley's side.

  "Didn't hear us," he said quietly.

  Shirley hung her head in embarrassment. "Sorry," she said in a low voice.

  Jackson shook his head. "We're fine. But like I was saying, he's moving around like the ones that attacked.

  "How can that be possible?"

  "How can people be running around acting like animals?" he asked with a shrug.

  Carol nodded. "Point taken."

  "Might be the bite though. Everyone else attacked is still on the ground. He was the only one that survived an attack as far as I could tell."

  "Are you sure it's the bite?" she asked. "What if it's airborne or something?"

  "Were already in trouble if it's airborne." At her look he explained further. "If it's airborne we've already been exposed or probably will be when we leave this office."

  Shirley nodded her understanding.

  "We'll wait a few more minutes and then try to get out of here," Jackson said.

  "What about the infected?"

  "If it doesn't leave we'll just have to try our luck. We can't stay in forever. We don't have any food or water."

  Shirley nodded. "Alright. I'm ready when you are."

  Jackson nodded and they spent the next few minutes in a companionable silence. After around fifteen minutes the creature still hadn't left the room and Jackson decided it was time to act.

  "I think we should go ahead and make a break for it," Jackson said.

  Shirley nodded. "How do we get past the infected?"

  "We'll try to sneak past. If he notices us, I'll take care of it."

  "Okay," Shirley replied and she got up from the floor. She shook out her jacket to get some wrinkles out and then quickly stopped when she realized how pointless that was given what had happened today. What was the point of being wrinkle free when there were people running around trying to kill you?

  Jackson motioned for her to come closer. "Ready?" he asked.

  Shirley nodded.

  "Alright, stay close."

  Jackson quietly turned the handle and opened the door wide enough for them to slip out. He stealthily made his way out of the office. Shirley took a moment to remove her heels, then followed after him. Jackson glanced at the creature and saw that it was still shuffling around the room. So far so good. They made their way over to the stairway when Shirley glanced towards the creature and tripped.

  She managed to catch herself and prevent a broken nose but the creature had heard them. It roared and started running towards them. Jackson helped her to her feet and pushed her behind him. Spying a briefcase, he picked it up and readied himself to meet the infected's charge. Jackson stepped to the side as the creature reached him and gave it a solid blow to the head with the briefcase. The creature was knocked flat on his back and Jackson moved closer to take advantage.

  Shirley watched in awe as Jackson delivered several brutal blows with the briefcase to the infected's head. After the third blow, it stopped moving. Jackson dropped the briefcase on the infected and slowly walked towards Shirley. He appeared hesitant at the look on her face.

  "Hope that doesn't bother you, but I've no intention of dying anytime soon."

  Shirley shook her head. "It doesn't bother me. I'm just amazed you took care of it so easily."

  Some of the tension left Jackson's shoulders. "Good. 'Cause it'll probably be some more of that before the day is done. Just so you know, I'll do the same if anyone attacks us, infected or not. Hope that's okay with you."

  "I feel safe with you, Jackson. You do whatever you need to protect us. I'm a practical woman. I'm not gonna faint at a little blood."

  Jackson nodded. "Alright. Let's get going then."

  "Wait," Shirley said, "there's one thing I can do before we get out here."

  "What's that?" Jackson asked.

  "I can warn everyone about this."

  Jackson looked thoughtful for a moment and then nodded. "Alright. That'll give some people a chance. Let's do it."

  It didn't take them long to get everything set up. Fortunately, the equipment they needed had survived the attack from the infected. Shirley thought to make herself more presentable but changed her mind. Better that her viewers see her as she was so they would take this seriously. She took her seat at the anchor desk and waited for Jackson to give her the signal. He counted down from three on his fingers and nodded his head.

  "This is Shirley O'Hara, reporting live from WKJ TV. I'm here to deliver a message. If you saw my interview this morning, I want to let you know that was only part of the story. The truth is that we're facing an outbreak. Those infected become extremely violent and will attack anyone around them. I have only barely survived an attack here at the station myself."

  Shirley nodded towards Jackson and he took a moment to pan the camera around the room.

  "As you can see, it was a brutal attack. The infected broke onto the floor and killed everyone. I don't know if anyone survived. I do not know when or if government authorities will regain control of the situation. Keep yourself safe. If someone you know is bitten, you need to get away from them as soon as you can. I've seen firsthand that the bite spreads the infection. Good luck, Emerald Falls. Be safe."

  She nodded again and Jackson cut the camera.

  "All good?" he asked.

  Shirley nodded. "That gives people a chance. The rest is up to them."

  Jackson nodded in response as she left the anchor desk. He led her to the stairway and took a moment to listen for infected on the other side. Hearing nothing, he opened the door and headed down. They reached the main lobby without incident but they saw the signs of the infected attack here as well.  Bodies were in several places around the room. The receptionist sat slumped in her chair, not even having a chance to run when she was attacked.

  Jackson shook his head at the carnage. "Poor bastards. Never had a chance."

  Shirley grimaced. Better them than her she thought. The infected attacking everything in sight is probably the only thing that let them survive that initial assault. This was sad sure, but she wouldn't lose any sleep over it. She'd felt obligated to warn the city about the infection. People deserved a chance to defend themselves. But from this point on, she wanted to survive herself. Sh
e normally didn't show this side of her to anyone. It was okay to be ambitious, but if you appeared callous then people would look down on you. Not that she saw herself as callous, just practical. She felt she could trust Jackson though. He was the only thing keeping her safe so she had might as well be herself. 

  "Better them than us," she replied.

  Jackson looked at her thoughtfully for a moment and nodded. "Fair enough. How do we get to this shelter of yours?" 

  "It's near city hall."

  Jackson snorted. "Fitting. Mayor has to be the first to get to safety and all."

  Shirley smiled. "On the bright side, it's only a few blocks from here."

  Jackson nodded. "Alright. I want to look around first. See if I can find something to use as a weapon."

  Shirley nodded. "What should we look for?"

  "Anything really. Scissors, letter openers, a broom stick if the shaft looks sturdy enough."

  Shirley nodded again and they started looking behind the receptionist's desk. Their search turned up a pair of scissors and a roll of duct tape.

  "Can you do anything with this?" Shirley asked.

  Jackson nodded. "I can improvise a knife outta that. Let's keeping looking though. I don't want to be that close if I don't have to be."

  They extended their search to a few side rooms but didn't turn up anything else useful. James was disappointed but figured it would have to do. Motioning for Shirley to follow, he led the way to the rear exit of the building. Going out the front would be faster but he didn't want to draw attention from any infected that were out there. That didn't mean the rear exit would be safe. There could easily be infected milling around out there. But hopefully there would be less of them.

  "You ready?" Jackson asked. At her nod he opened the door and stepped outside. Fortunately there was no sign of infected. Following Shirley's instructions he led them towards the shelter, sticking to alleyways and back streets. They managed to reach the shelter without running into any infected. The shelter was a nondescript building. One would walk past it without giving it a second glance. They approached the building and met a sturdy steel door.

  Knocking got no response. Just as she was about to yell in frustration she noticed a scanner of some sort mounted on the wall next to the door. She tried her hand but that didn't seem to work. She then remembered the invitation she'd received. She fished in her pocket and breathed a sigh of relief when she touched it. She then placed the invitation face down on the scanner and noted a white light move across. There was an audible click and Shirley was able to open the door.

  Stepping inside they found themselves in a long hallway. They were met by a man dressed in black fatigues. He had a rifle slung across his chest, Shirley wasn't sure what kind as she had little experience with guns. The guard had a clipboard in hand and asked for her name.

  "Shirley O'Hara," she replied.

  The guard nodded as he perused the list. "Alright, I've got you here. And this is?" he asked looking towards Jackson.

  "He's my guest," Shirley responded, "you won’t see him on the list."

  The guard nodded. "That's fine. Name?"

  "Jackson Barnes," Jackson replied.

  The guard made a note of some kind and gestured towards the end of the hallway. There was an elevator flanked by two more guards dressed in the same way as the one they were speaking to.

  "Proceed to the elevator. You'll be directed to a bunk. Rations are at six tonight."

  Shirley nodded and led Jackson towards the elevator. One of the elevator guards nodded at them and swiped a card which caused the elevator to open. There was another guard waiting within.

  He nodded towards them and hit a button on the panel. "You folks are lucky. They'll be closing down the facility soon."

  "What if you haven't made it yet?" Shirley asked.

  The guard shrugged. "Don't know the answer to that. Just heard we'll be locking down soon."

  Any further conversation was interrupted as the elevator came to a stop. They entered a large room. Shirley looked around and thought it looked big enough to hold several hundred people. One side of the room consisted of rows of bunks. There were families milling around having already staked out space. The middle of the room appeared to be a common area of sorts. There were several tables with various games ready to be played. The right side of the room had a number of partitions around maybe seven feet high. Bathing area maybe? The sound of someone clearing their throat caught Shirley's attention and she found herself looking at a middle aged woman wearing brown slacks and a matching shirt.

  "Hi there," she said, "I'm Roberta King. I'm in charge of greeting arrivals."

  "Hi," Shirley responded, "I'm Shirley and this is Jackson."

  "A pleasure to meet you. If you'll come with me, I'll give you a quick tour."

  She led them towards the bunks. "There isn't much here but it's enough to meet our needs for the few days we'll be down here. She led them towards an unoccupied bunk.

  "This will be your bunk. You can decide amongst yourselves who gets what." She glanced at them for a moment. "If you're sharing a bunk, let me know. Someone else could use the space."

  Shirley blushed bright red. "Oh, it's not li-"

  "Not my business," the woman said interrupting. "If you're sharing, or decide to share let me know as we can use the space. Some people have brought in more than the allotted amount of dependents. They've paid enough money to be here that we can't just turn them away so any extra bunks will be needed." Shirley nodded. The woman motioned for them to follow and led them to the middle of the room.

  "This is the common area. We've got various games to keep everyone occupied." 

  Shirley and Jackson looked around at the tables and nodded. The woman then pointed to the right side of the room. "That's the hygiene area. You can shower and use the facilities there." The woman glanced at her watch. 

  "Rations won't be for another few hours. I hope you had something to eat before this all started."

  "We'll be alright," Jackson responded. "Thanks for the tour."

  The woman nodded. "Everything will be fine. We'll just be down here a few days, a week at most. By then, the government will have this infection under control."

  Shirley nodded. The woman smiled and headed off, presumably to wait for more arrivals. Jackson motioned for her to follow and led the way back towards their bunk. Once there he leaned forward and whispered in her ear.

  "So, which bunk do you want? Or should we do the selfless thing and share?" He chuckled as she blushed.

  "I'll take the top she said."

  Jackson smiled. "You sure? Someone might need the extra bunk."

  "Yes, I'm sure," she said, still blushing.

  "Alright. On a serious note though, I want to pick different bunks."

  "Why?" Shirley asked.

  "I think this place is a disaster waiting to happen."

  Shirley noted that he was still speaking quietly and matched her voice to his. "How? We've got food, water, and shelter."

  "True, but I already saw a huge red flag when we were on that tour with Roberta."

  "What's that?"

  "She mentioned that they were letting extra people in. People they didn't plan for. That's why she made the comment about us sharing a bunk."

  "How is that a problem? A few people will have to double up at some point. Doesn't seem like that big a deal."

  Jackson shook his head. "The bunks aren't the problem although it doesn't help the situation. Think about it. If they're short on beds, what else might they be short on?"

  Shirley thought for a moment. "The food," she responded.

  Jackson nodded. "Exactly. How long are people going to stay calm if they're not getting enough to eat?"

  "What's the worst that can happen?" Shirley asked. "They'll have to lower the ration amount or something."

  "That might work for a bit. But what happens when everyone realizes the government isn't coming to the rescue?"

  "They should get
here eventually. They won't be here today, of course. But a few days? A week? They should be able to get people here by then."

  Jackson shook his head. "I don't think that's going to happen. Tell me, what's the population of Emerald Falls?"

  Shirley shrugged. "I don't know. Around two hundred thousand or so I think."

  "Alright. We've seen firsthand what happens when the infected attack. Most of the time, they just kill you. But every now and then, someone survives an attack and becomes one of them. If just a fraction of that two hundred thousand becomes infected, how can anyone deal with that? You said yourself that the police couldn't handle this. How is the military any different?"

  Shirley frowned as she considered his words. "The military has better gear. Surely they can deal with the infected."

  James shook his head again. "Look, take Emerald Falls. If just ten percent of that two hundred thousand turns, how many is that?"

  Shirley paused to do that math in her head. "That's what, twenty thousand?"

  Jackson nodded. "And that's just Emerald Falls. What about the larger cities? There's not gonna be any stopping this outbreak. Not man to man anyway. Maybe they'll bomb some cities to contain it. Maybe that would work. But that doesn't help us. Either we die to the infected or we die along with them if the government bombs the city."

  "What do we do then?"

  "We're gonna need to get outta the city at some point," Jackson said. "Between the infected and the people, it's not gonna be safe."

  "When should we go?" Shirley asked. If you had asked her a few days ago if she'd throw her lot in with someone, she'd have laughed in their face. She trusted Jackson though. He'd already proved he could keep her safe. If he felt they needed leave, then that's what they needed to do.

  "We'll give it a day or two," Jackson replied. "We need food and rest. I also want to see if I can get my hands on a better weapon at some point. Stay ready though. Sleep with your shoes on."

  Shirley raised an eyebrow. "Why on earth would I sleep with my shoes on?"

  "We might have to leave suddenly," Jackson replied. "If it happens that way, the last thing you want is to have and stop and worry about your shoes."

  "I'm in trouble if we have too much running," she said indicating her heels.

  "Give them here," Jackson said. Shirley frowned but handed the shoes over. Jackson quickly broke the heel off of each shoe and handed them back.

  Shirley chuckled. "A few hours ago that would've pissed me off. But I guess that makes sense."

  Jackson smiled. "You're welcome. When we do leave, we'll try and hit a store and get us both some better gear. We're not gonna get far with what we've got."

  Shirley nodded. "I think there's a Rick's Sporting Goods not too far from here. A few blocks maybe."

  "That'll be our first stop then. We'll need better clothes. Tents and such too."

  "Alright. That's our plan then."

  Jackson nodded. "Will you be okay here? I wanna look around. See if I can't find another exit out of here. I don't trust those guards and their rifles."

  "You think there's another way out of here?"

  "Should be. Don't see them putting in an elevator without there also being a stairwell."

  Shirley nodded. "Okay, I think I'll get some rest until they feed us. Didn't sleep all that well on the floor earlier." She sat on the bottom bunk.

  Jackson nodded. "True. Not a bad idea. Don't know when we'll see a real bed again."

  Shirley shivered at the thought. She'd do what she needed to survive but the thought of not sleeping in a bed made the city girl in her scream in protest. Jackson chuckled at the look or her face.

  "You'll manage."

  "I know," Shirley replied, "doesn't mean I have to like the thought of not sleeping in a bed."

  Jackson smiled. "Fair enough. So did you change your mind about sharing? You called the top bunk," he finished with a smile.

  Shirley blushed again, “I’m too tired to climb up there right now.”

  Jackson chuckled, “Alright, get some sleep. I’ll be back soon.”

  Shirley nodded and laid down. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow. It felt like only a few minutes had passed when she felt someone shaking her awake. Opening her eyes, she saw Jackson sitting next to her on the bed.

  "Hey," he said. "It's nearly six so they're about to hand out the rations."

  "Alright," Shirley said as she stretched in the bed. "Did you get some sleep?"

  Jackson nodded. "I did. Also found what I was looking for."

  Shirley nodded. He must be referring to the stairs. "Good," she replied.

  "It's guarded but we'll deal with that when the time comes."

  "Okay. Where is it?"

  "It's just past the bathroom area."

  "Alright. Let me up. I could eat a horse."

  Jackson chuckled and moved out of the way so she could get up. They headed towards the common area and got in line. At the end of the line there were two guards that were handing out a small box to each person. They waited for their turn and found a table to themselves. They opened their boxes and saw a sandwich along with an apple and some potato chips. Normally, they might not find such fare appealing but they each dug in and were done in moments. 

  "Is that all?" Shirley asked sadly.

  Jackson shrugged. "Better than nothing I suppose."

  "I'm still hungry though."

  Jackson nodded. "You and me both."

  "Shirley! You made it!"

  Shirley turned to see her fiancé, Jeremy Dunst, heading towards her. She stood up to greet him and he swept her up in a fierce hug. "I’d feared the worse when I couldn't reach you on your cell," he whispered in her ear.

  "I'm okay, Jeremy," she said as she hugged him back. "Jackson kept me safe."

  Jeremy looked over at Jackson who had been looking away to give them some semblance of privacy. "Thank you, Jackson. I owe you a debt I can never repay."

  Jackson shrugged. "I wouldn't let anything happen to her. Besides, don't think I'd be here if not for her so we helped each other in the end."

  "Still," Jeremy said, "it had to be rough getting here."

  "Nothing I couldn't handle," Jackson said with a small smile.

  Jeremy looked back to Shirley. "Everything will be okay now, you'll see. The government will be here soon and everything will go back to normal."

  Shirley smiled. "I sure hope so. Today was pretty terrible." 

  "Tell me about it," Jeremy said. He led her away from the common area so they could talk. As they left, Shirley glanced back towards Jackson and he nodded in response. Reassured, she let herself be led away.

   

   

   

  4 Henry: Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, Georgia

   

  Henry sat at his desk with a glass of whiskey in his hand. Another drink or two and he should be at that place where thoughts didn't happen anymore. He wasn't sure he could live with himself. He had deliberately lied about the severity of the crisis in that interview this morning. By the time he had taken the interview he had known a few crucial things about the virus.

  The first was that there would never be a cure. Tests on subjects brought in by the army had shown this. Further testing since the interview had confirmed it. The virus induced a virulent fever that severely damaged the higher functions of the brain. Speech, problem solving, and so on were all affected.

  The virus was a work of art in a way. Fevers of over one hundred and seven degrees could easily be fatal if medical treatment wasn't provided in a timely manner. The virus somehow induced a fever, but only long enough to kill higher brain functions. The victim survived, but everything that made that person who they were was burned away.

  Autonomic functions remained intact. Subjects could breathe and take sustenance without issue. The subjects were extremely aggressive. Strangely though, they didn't attack other people that were infected. They'd learned this first hand. One of his techs had been unluc
ky enough to get bit by one of the first subjects the army had brought him. When he showed signs of infection, he'd been placed in the same room with the first subject. They hadn't attacked each other.

  Henry mourned the loss of his tech. What his name? Harry? No. Gary Wilks. He'd been a dependable worker but his loss did reveal some important information. The time from infection to loss of higher brain function took approximately two hours. Further, it seemed a bite is what spread the virus. Another tech had gotten infected blood on him in that first incident but wasn't showing signs of infection. He was currently quarantined for safety but it was probably safe since he hasn't shown signs of infection yet. He'd give the order to let him out in the morning. He took another sip of his whiskey.

  A cure wouldn't serve much purpose. The loss of higher brain function meant that the subject was dead for all intents and purposes. Even if he developed a cure, there'd be nothing but a vegetable left. The subject could eat, sleep, and eliminate waste, but that would be it. But this isn't what had him drinking. He'd lied on that interview today. The infection would spread. People would starve to death in their homes waiting for help that would never come. That would perhaps be a blessing though. The unlucky would survive an attack from the infected and then join their ranks. Perhaps they would even attack their loved ones.

  If he'd said something, people would at least know that they needed to protect themselves. Part of him said it wasn't his fault. After all, the army had told him revealing that information would be considered treason. But, was that just cowardice in disguise? If he'd been brave enough maybe some people could have prepared themselves for what was coming.

  On the other hand, he was in a position to make a difference. Telling the country the truth might have assuaged his conscious, but he would have been removed from the project. The truth of the matter was that someone else could easily get it wrong. That wasn't arrogant. Henry was the best in his field. If any solution could be found, well he was the one to do it. 

  He accepted that intellectually. The guilt however, wouldn't release its grip. He glanced at his empty glass. At least not without some assistance. One, maybe two more and the guilt would be gone, if only for a little while.

  The sound of his door opening ended his dark reverie. Looking up he saw Captain Nick Jacobson in the doorway, a look of fury on his face.

  "What are you doing?" he demanded striding into the room.

  "Just having a drink," Henry replied, his voice slurred from the drink.

  Nick crossed the remaining distance and knocked the glass from his hand. He leaned over the doctor, his hand on either side of his office chair.

  "The country I love is dying," he said in a low voice. "Not by an enemy I can fight, but from a virus I can't even see with my eyes. I can't do anything about that. But I'll be damned if I stand here and watch your drink yourself stupid!"

  Henry looked sadly at the shattered remnants of his whiskey glass. So close to quieting the guilt for a while.

  "Look at me when I'm talking to you!"

  Henry jumped. "Sorry. I'm just,” he sighed. “The interview today."

  Nick posted away and stepped back. "The interview? That's what's bothering you? You had your orders. I don't agree with the orders, not with what's coming, but those were our orders."

  "I could've warned people," he mumbled.

  Nick shook his head. "The smart ones can read between the lines. That O'Hara dropped a few hints. But there's nothing you can do about that. You can make a difference. So do it."

  "I can't make a cure," Henry replied. "The virus destroys higher brain function. There's nothing left to save. I may be able to make a vaccine of sorts given enough time."

  "That you'll have. We'll be evacuating soon. The new location should have everything you need."

  "Alright," Henry said, "guess I'll get back to work."

  "Not yet. Sleep off the drink. Maybe there's no cure but stopping this thing from spreading works too. You can't waste time on mistakes. I'll give you four hours to sober up."

  Henry nodded and stumbled over to the couch in his office. His position frequently required long hours that made it more efficient to sleep here at times. Oblivion claimed him before his head hit the pillow.
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